COVID Further Muddles West Chatham Roadway Project

By: Alan Pollock

Cars pass through the West Chatham construction zone. FILE PHOTO

But State Agrees To Smooth Pavement

WEST CHATHAM Hotly debated for years and delayed by a gas company mistake, the long-awaited West Chatham roadway reconstruction project faces new uncertainty because of COVID-19.

But in one happy bit of news, the state has agreed to make temporary improvements to smooth the bumpy pavement that has been rattling teeth for months.

On Wednesday, after press time, selectmen were expected to consider granting a request to allow utility work to continue on Route 28 after Memorial Day, when Cape Cod road projects are usually suspended to reduce conflicts with summer traffic.

In a May 20 memo to selectmen, DPW Director Tom Temple acknowledged the “unacceptable conditions of the temporary roadway pavement” put in place last fall. The uneven pavement raised the ire of selectmen, who asked Temple to bring the matter to the Mass. Department of Transportation.

“MassDOT, after numerous discussions, has reconsidered the town’s request and has agreed to mill and resurface the utility trench areas that have been identified as deficient,” Temple wrote. Tentatively starting the first week in June, crews will smooth the pavement in various areas in the construction zone, between Wheldon Way and Market Place. But the work depends on allowing utility crews to stay on the job for the time being, he said.

Having accidentally buried gas mains at the incorrect depth under the new roundabouts planned at Barn Hill Road and George Ryder Road, National Grid is in the process of laying the pipes again. That process will take about three more weeks, weather permitting, Temple said. Once the new line is installed and tested, it will be ready for National Grid crews to make the 11 connections to homes and businesses in the area. Because of the pandemic, National Grid implemented a temporary policy restricting its employees from doing interior work, but it is expected to lift that restriction soon.

“I am optimistic that this can take place in Phase 2 and/or 3 of the governor’s plan to reopen Massachusetts,” Temple said. That would mean that, at the earliest, the work could begin on June 8. Temple said it is important that those connections be made as soon as possible, given the uncertain nature of COVID-19.

“Unfortunately, trying to provide the [board of selectmen] with a more defined completion schedule during this unprecedented public health emergency (with so many moving parts) is not an easy task,” Temple wrote. There is a risk that, if the virus returns in the fall, the restriction on interior gas hook-ups will be imposed again. For that reason, allowing the gas work to take place in the next few weeks represents “most likely a very small window of opportunity to complete this needed work,” he wrote.

The gas connections and the temporary paving would be complete by June 30, after which time work would suspend for the summer.

After Labor Day, crews from Lawrence Lynch Corp. will return to complete any minor utility work before starting the full-depth reconstruction of the roadway. During that time, curbs will be installed and the road will begin to take on its future configuration, with two travel lanes, sidewalks and a multi-use bike lane, but no center turning lane. Crews will also “establish the footprint of the roundabouts prior to the onset of winter 2020-2021,” Temple wrote. “Again, scheduling is contingent on weather conditions and current delays associated with COVID-19.”

Barring any such delays, the remaining work in the spring of 2021 would be limited to the installation of the final layer of pavement, road stripes and landscaping, he said.

The $4 million roadway project is designed to improve safety along Route 28 in West Chatham, and is expected to slow the flow of traffic and provide a more comfortable experience for pedestrians and cyclists. Supporters say it will help support a vibrant West Chatham village center; critics say businesses will suffer when the center turning lane is removed.